- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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David Wilson, a first-round pick from the 2012 NFL draft, is going to be the New York Giants' starting running back this year. We think. Kind of. But something about this whole situation reminds me of how excited the fantasy football community was about Roy Helu in Washington this time last year. That didn't feel right, and neither does this.
What we know about Wilson is that he has top-end speed and the ability to score from anywhere on the field. This makes him the kind of running back that appeals to fantasy football players because of upside. If he has a big game -- a game that includes even one very long touchdown -- he can win your weekly matchup for you by delivering big points from the most important position. This is enticing, and people pay for it at drafts every single year.
But the issue with Wilson, which comes up in this fantasy roundtable video comparing him to new Jets starter Chris Ivory, is one of opportunity. And there are several reasons I'd stay away from Wilson and the Giants' running game in general this year in fantasy. Several of them are the same reasons it's been a good idea to stay away from Giants running backs for a few years now.
In the video, Ken Daube mentions Wilson's "complete skill set" and defends him against the "bad misconception" that he had fumble problems as a rookie. Correct on both counts. The whole "doghouse" issue with Wilson after his Week 1 fumble got way overblown. The main reason he didn't get much run in the backfield until later in the season was that the team had concerns about his pass-protection abilities, and the main reason he did get more touches late in the season was that Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown got hurt. Nothing to do with the Week 1 fumble.
But while Bradshaw is gone, Brown is still on the team. And when you're talking about Wilson's fantasy value, that matters big time. Brown scored eight touchdowns last year in just 10 games. He was the goal-line running back, and he had enough success in that role that the Giants should and likely will hand it right back to him this year. That means, if Wilson is one of your starting fantasy running backs, he's going to need to score touchdowns from outside the 10-yard line or he's not going to score them. Anyone who's ever played fantasy football knows the pain of watching a backup running back "vulture" a touchdown from the 2-yard line after your guy did all the work to get the ball down there. Knowing for a fact this will happen before the week begins? That's a special kind of torture, because it's one for which you've volunteered.
Add in the fact that we haven't seen Wilson as a featured running back for a full season (so we can't know yet if it's something he can handle), and you have a big question mark. And add in the well-established fact that the Giants are a passing offense whose coaches see pass protection as the running back's primary role, and now you've introduced a nonfantasy-related factor that could have major fantasy implications.
Bradshaw is the premier pass-protection running back in the NFL, by a wide margin. Losing him means the Giants' coaching staff will be watching its backs very closely in preseason and in training camp to determine which of them can pick up the blitz and absorb the kind of contact that helps keep defenders off of Eli Manning. Brown can pass protect a bit, and Wilson improved some in that area last year, but the difference between an adequate pass-protection back and what Bradshaw offered remains vast. And if Manning's protection becomes an issue, you'd better believe the Giants will deploy their running backs with an eye toward helping in that area rather than helping your fantasy football team. What that means for Wilson is yet another unknown; I'm just saying you shouldn't expect his home-run-hitting ability to keep him in the lineup when it's not the team's primary concern.
Wilson's ability as a runner makes him an enticing fantasy football play. But the Giants' coaching staff isn't looking for the best fantasy football running back. The Giants mix and match with running backs, and they'll put the ones on the field who help the overall offense function the best. That's why I'm not taking Wilson early. He could be a great asset this year. I just think there are too many question marks about the ways in which the team will use him to make him a trustworthy option.